In a slightly coincidental turn of events, the last event that we reviewed was also a zombie experience set in a shopping mall, Zed Events’ ‘The Mall’. Despite having a similar theme and location, the two events were night and day. ‘Dead Centre’ placed its focus on narrative and performance versus the action movie stylings of ‘The Mall’. That’s not to say that there wasn’t action in ‘Dead Centre’ because there was, a lot!
The show began with a security guard finding us loitering in the shopping centre. Bizarrely, he swiftly performed a series of blood tests on our group in the hope of finding someone with blood that could help develop a cure for the zombie infection that was spreading rapidly throughout the country. As luck would have it, one of our group possessed the necessary blood type so the guard was keen to keep us around in order to introduce us to another character who could synthesise this cure. The one slight hitch here was that the place was infested with zombies and getting to the safe zone wouldn’t be so simple!
A lot of running from place to place ensued with plans ever-changing as the infected scuppered our progress at every juncture. Along the way, we encountered some colourful characters including one guy who absolutely lost his mind at the guards handing precious water out to all of us.
What really worked throughout the show was that Hide and Shriek have avoided that well-worn cliche of being chaperoned through the apocalypse by military staff. Our guides were two hapless, everyman security guards who knew their way around the shopping centre but little else! This was a breath of fresh air as just about every zombie event that we’ve attended has been under the watch of weapon-wielding personnel (including even Hide and Shriek’s own Delectably Dead). The two actors here were fantastic, really diving into the funny script and ad-libbing with perfection when guests threw curve balls at them. It made a real change from being shouted at for an hour by overly stern soldiers!
Because of this, we appreciated the final third of the experience a lot more. It took a darker turn – figuratively and literally – and contrasted nicely with what had come before it. There was even a part that was a mini-scare maze, utilising the set from a previous Hide and Shriek haunt.
The next paragraph is potentially a spoiler – highlight the text to read…
And then, the finale. Until this point, we had scarcely seen the public facing parts of the mall having mostly travelled through service corridors and loading bays in an attempt to stay out of the infected’s way. We eventually found ourselves with no other option – we had to make a break for it! What ensued was a short but brilliantly epic dash for freedom across the shopping centre! The place was crawling with the undead and their ferocity had now reached peak levels – all bets were off here! It was an amazing cap to the evening and a smart idea in retrospect to save most of our exposure to the public areas until the end.
Where the show was less successful, unfortunately, was with the zombies themselves. Our first encounter with the undead was very jarring with a sole zombie appearing just beyond a doorway. A doorway that we had to pass through. And we did, with the zombie pretty much standing in place, snarling at us until the last person had passed – at which point it pursued us only to disappear with little fanfare. It’s obvious that guests can’t be running around every which way, especially in an environment that isn’t designed specifically for the event.
That said, the way that this particular moment was handled took us right out of the scene as it no longer felt real or threatening in the least. It’s definitely a ‘rock and a hard place’ situation for the organisers but what made this instance even worse was that it set the bar for the rest of the evening. The initial confrontation with the infected needed to be imposing and demonstrate that we had to keep as far away from these things as possible. We get that the zombies can’t actually grab or bite us. However, there was absolutely no illusion here that they would.
This issue also reared its head with their very staccato appearances. We’d be chased for a bit, take a break, be chased again etc. And in those moments where we took a breather, the zombies were literally on the other side of unlocked doors. As soon as a door was shut, they seemingly vanished. Even a bit of banging on the doors until we left the area would have helped imbue them with some menace and add a little unease to those moments of reprieve.
The other remark we’d make is tied into the above; our hands were ‘held’ throughout the entire experience. There was a sequence on the roof of the building where we were instructed to look around for objects that might help us. We thought we might be left alone for five or ten minutes to explore the area like a mini-escape game. However, everything that we needed to find was pointed out to us immediately. This felt like a missed opportunity. There was a later moment where someone was asked to retrieve a key which happened to be placed right beside them.
These segments of the show were ripe for allowing guests to interact with the show in a more meaningful way. If the show returns, these sections should definitely give participants a small amount of time to explore on their own terms. After all, a little bit of immersion goes a long way!
It’s an observation we’ve made before – Hide and Shriek is an incredibly innovative company which is what we love about them. Its why we’re always there as soon as they announce something new. But the execution of the more ambitious events sometimes betrays the cool ideas that they have. We noticed this most recently with Delectably Dead. With the projects that are smaller in scope, they knock it out of the park as we found with The Seance and No Strings Attached. It’s great that they try and offer experiences away from your classic haunts and we fully expect that they’re only going to get better as they grow.
Second Opinion: The two main actors were really strong, staying in character for the duration of the show and the set design in the later scenes was notable. It would have been better had we spent more time in the actual shopping area and I would have liked the first zombie to appear sooner than it did. However, it was an enjoyable evening but more zombies next time please!
Dead Centre (2017)
+ The script
+ Performances across the board
- The zombies lacked 'bite'
- Lack of interactivity
We genuinely had a great time here but there were a few immersion-shattering moments that prevented us from fully engaging with events that were occurring. However, if you want a reasonably priced and fun zombie experience, we doubt that you'll find a better offer out there than 'Dead Centre'. Just be ready to run!!
Ticket Price: £45
Address: 344-347 Chartwell Square, Victoria Plaza, Southend-on-sea, Essex SS2 5SP